Polluted with PFOA

Daikin’s Veteran Public Relations, Using War as an Analogy in Objection

2023.07.15 13:36 Nanami Nakagawa

The Yodogawa Plant of Daikin Industries, Ltd. in Settsu City, Osaka, is still discharging PFOA outside the premises, as reported in “Daikin Yodogawa Plant Still Discharging PFOA Outside Its Premises While Concealing the Concentration, Draining Wastewater into Tap Water.” A portion of the PFOA wastewater from Daikin ends up being used as tap water for the citizens of Osaka City. However, Daikin keeps this concentration secret, no matter how much residents ask for it to be disclosed.

What is Daikin’s intention?

I got the opportunity to hear the truth the day Settsu citizens submitted their signatures to Daikin. The person I talked to was Michio Shiba. For more than 20 years, he served as public relations for Daikin.

Public Relations “Specialist”

On March 24, 2023, the citizen group that aims to address PFOA pollution in Settsu, consisting of residents of Settsu City, submitted 24,498 signatures collected from all across Japan to Daikin. The content includes demands such as disclosure of the concentration of PFOA wastewater, which Daikin is still discharging outside its premises.

This is the first time that Settsu citizens, who suffer from the highest concentration of PFOA pollution in Japan, have submitted their signatures to Daikin, the source of the pollution. The press, including major newspapers and television, also paid attention and rushed to the scene.

Daikin, on the other hand, was thorough in not allowing the press to enter the premises. Two public relations staff members from the head office were checking on the press.

Hisano Noda of the Public Relations Group of the Corporate Communication Office was one of them. When I wrote letters of inquiry to Daikin and applied for interviews, she was my point of contact.

The other was Michio Shiba. His business card reads “Senior Skills Specialist, Corporate Communications Office.”

The reporters had no choice but to wait on the public road in front of the Yodogawa Plant until the citizen group had finished submitting their signatures and returned. Taking advantage of that time, I decided to interview Shiba. I know from previous meetings that Noda is merely a point of contact, and Shiba identifies himself as a “specialist” on his business card. I expected him to clarify clearly how Daikin views its responsibility for PFOA pollution.

Even knowing the dangers of PFOA in 2000

The first question I had was about the amount and concentration of PFOA that Daikin had released outside its premises. The Yodogawa Plant has the highest concentration of PFOA contamination in Japan. One digit greater than the other areas. I was curious as to how much PFOA had been leaked and at what concentration to generate this level of pollution.

However, Shiba replied, “I don’t know about the past,” regarding emissions and concentrations.

This is a deception. Daikin began manufacturing and using PFOA in the late 1960s. Until now, there is no reason why they have not grasped the concentrations and emissions for all time periods. I asked again when Daikin had known the numbers.

Although Shiba said, “I don’t know about the past,” this time he replied, “From around 2000.” Here’s how he explained why he came to acknowledge:

“We didn’t measure it until around 2000 because it wasn’t a regulated substance. There was a movement in the United States, and Japan started to dispose of it as well.”

The US government first warned about the dangers of PFOA in 2000. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced information on the persistence of PFOA. Two years later, 3M, the world leader in PFOA manufacturing, ceased production. Shiba is referring to this movement in the United States.

Yet, Daikin’s response was different from that of American companies.

First, Daikin did not immediately stop manufacturing PFOA.

The purification of contaminated water is also sloppy compared to that of the States.

Daikin is now pumping up underground water that has accumulated on the factory premises, removing PFOA, and discharging it outside. Nonetheless, Daikin conceals the concentration of PFOA in wastewater, so we cannot be certain if it is really removed.

In order to prevent the contamination from spreading outside the facility, it is effective to drive in impermeable walls to contain PFOA within the site. Despite knowing about the threat in 2000, it has yet to be installed.

“For the maintenance of civilized life”

Why didn’t Daikin stop manufacturing PFOA in 2000 when it learned of its dangers? Shiba replied, “As you know, you can’t stop suddenly. To maintain such a civilized life.”

I replied, “Even if it’s dangerous?” In response, Shiba used “war” as an analogy.

“It’s your choice to look back at the past and denounce the war with sentences like ‘that war was caused by idiots,’ but blaming people in the present for what their predecessors have done in the past should be done in a proper trial or something. It’s easy for you to say ‘This is outrageous,’ and accuse us for doing nothing even though we knew the problem (about PFOA). But the historical background at that time and now are of course different.”

I disagree with disregarding the responsibility for causing the war on the grounds of the historical background. Furthermore, Shiba’s argument is missing a key point: there are people who are still suffering as a result of the war.

The same can be said with PFOA pollution. Residents in Settsu with high amounts of PFOA found in their blood, parents whose children attend elementary schools near the facility, and Osaka residents who drink tap water contaminated with factory wastewater are still concerned.

On the other hand, Shiba doesn’t seem to think that the PFOA pollution caused by Daikin is a major concern.

“Like in the film ‘Dark Waters,’ if you’re pouring PFOA into a pond and a cow drinking the water from the pond dies, that is an issue. But Daikin isn’t doing that.”

“If there is a health hazard and the causal relationship is proven, we will take responsibility, even if the pollution occurred 50 years ago.”

What is “Absolute Credibility”?

I interviewed Shiba for about 25 minutes. His irresponsible and careless remarks made it difficult to believe that he had been in charge of public relations for a global company.

Moreover, I was surprised when researching Shiba’s background. In August 2019, he was awarded the “Corporate Public Relations Merit and Encouragement Award” at the “Corporate Public Relations Award” sponsored by the “Economic Public Relations Center,” which organizes activities to publicize corporate social contributions.

PFOA contamination was not as widely discussed in 2019 as it is now. Daikin, Settsu City, and Osaka Prefecture did not inform residents of the actual PFOA pollution problem and held private discussions on PFOA countermeasures. Despite this, Shiba stated at the award ceremony (quoted from the official website of the advertising conference “AdverTimes.”):

“I would like to continue our public relations activities based on the company’s policy of ‘Absolute Credibility.'”

Who does he think he is being credible to when he says “Absolute Credibility?”

Yodogawa Plant of Daikin Industries (Photo by Nanami Nakagawa on March 24, 2023)

(Originally published in Japanese on May 16, 2023. Translation by Mana Shibata.)

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